Trump’s Nixonian Presidency


“I think the FBI must be brought under brutal control.” “The trouble is that some of these Democratic senators… These bastard traitors we have in this country… are now trying to deprive you of any success.” Given recent revelations and public declarations, it may seem surprising that neither Donald Trump nor his staff uttered these words. Henry Kissinger made those comments to Richard Nixon in 1973, just as the Watergate scandal gained momentum.

There are any number of ways one could characterize the Nixon presidency. Considering Nixon’s intense dislike of interacting with other people, Bob Dole stated it was flatly surprising that a Nixon presidency occurred at all. Henry Kissinger often questioned Nixon’s manhood as a means to manipulate him into doing what Kissinger wanted: therefore, manly could be another characteristic. Some might remember the extent of the deceit and dishonesty involved in the Watergate affair and lean toward characterizing Nixon as lying, cheating, or even tricky. But, it seems that the most accurate characterization of the Nixon presidency has to be insecure. Richard Nixon was utterly, utterly insecure about not having gone to the right schools, about not being from the so-called Eastern Establishment, and of course, of having to compete with the Kennedy’s. Everything that befell Richard Nixon’s presidency originated from a deeply ingrained sense of insecurity.

Likewise, Donald Trump’s first year as president points to an individual who is equally insecure. Before he ever took the oath of office, Trump impugned our national democracy claiming that only a “massive voter fraud” explained why his opponent received three million more votes than he did. Someone secure in their own skin would have openly acknowledged that they won on a technicality and moved on from there. Instead, Trump irrationally lashed out at supposed voting fraud in California, Virginia, and New Hampshire (the state, by the way, whose primary he decisively won thereby launching his run to the Republican nomination). Having accomplished nothing, on January 3, 2018, Trump dissolved the voting commission he originally established to investigate that supposed “massive voter fraud.”

In the beginning of January, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury attracting tremendous attention, and aroused repeated questions about Donald Trump’s intelligence and his ability to competently perform the duties of the office of the presidency. In response, Trump insisted “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” Trump further intoned that he was in fact “a very stable genius.” Seriously? Who would say that? The week before last, Trump gave a speech in Cincinnati in which he referred to congressional Democrats who refused to clap during his state-of-the-union address as “unAmerican” and “treasonous.” Does this sound like someone who even remotely understands the basic tenets of our democracy? As inept and pathetic as the Democrats have been, David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, responded best by stating; “When Vladimir Putin does his yearly news conference, he demands applause and supplication from those in attendance, but it’s beyond bizarre for an American president to demand the same from free-thinking citizens in a democratic republic.”

Now this past week, Trump called for a military parade, the likes of which we have not seen in this country since 1991 during the First Gulf War. Prior to 1991, the last military parade we had was in 1961 during the Kennedy administration and at the height of Cold War tensions. Simply put, holding military parades is not an American tradition. Military parades are held in petty little dictatorships like North Korea, or in totalitarian states like Putin’s Russia, not here.  3 Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said; “I’m not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That’s not who we are. It’s kind of cheesy. I think it shows weakness, quite frankly.” We as a nation do not need to hold parades to demonstrate our strength. Our strength comes from our shared values, and our individual rights and freedoms, and our unwavering belief in democracy.

This mere handful of examples doesn’t even take into account Trump’s infantile outrage at the FBI’s Russia probe, or to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Throughout this entire episode, Trump has never acted like a man with nothing to hide, he has acted like a man with everything to hide, just as Richard Nixon did during the Watergate investigation. When referencing Nixon and Kissinger, presidential historian Robert Dallek noted in Nixon and Kissinger (2007) that; “Kissinger would have done well to take counsel from Calvin Coolidge’s observation that ‘It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers… They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgement.’” It is obvious from everything he says and does, Donald Trump arrived in office with impaired judgement, and massive insecurity, just like Richard Nixon.

Robert McLaughlin teaches modern world history at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey (USA).